Here are some questions on Matthew 23:1-4, 23-26, the “common text” for Sunday, July 8, that we might or might not want to consider in class:
In v2, Jesus tells his listeners to “do whatever they [the scribes and Pharisees] teach you,” to “practice what they preach” – which is more than they do. What is our response to this statement? What do we think “whatever they teach you” includes? Why do we think that? How well does this match what we expect Jesus to say? Why? Does this instruction apply to us today? Why, or why not?
What do we think Jesus means by “heavy burdens” in v4? What would be an example of a “heavy burden” created by religious teaching? What seems to be the problem Jesus is identifying in v4 – the heaviness of the burden(s), the absence of help, something else? How can the problem be avoided, or solved, do we think? Why do we think that?
One way to understand Jesus’ complaint in vv23-24 is that he is criticizing people who focus on minutiae and ignore “the weightier matters of the law, mercy and justice and faith.” What would this criticism look like in our own religious environment? That is, what kinds of things are like “tithing mint and dill and cumin”? How are those things similar?
Is it easier, or more difficult, do we think, to focus on the details of proper religious observance while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law”? Why? Is it possible to focus on “the weightier matters of the law” while neglecting to “tithe mint and dill and cumin”? Is it possible to neglect both? To do both equally well? Why? (More personal) Which course of action seems closest to what we, ourselves, do? What does that tell us? Why?
In vv25-26, Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for devoting too much energy to external purity concerns, and not enough energy to rooting out “greed and self-indulgence.” Do we ever do anything similar? What? How is that similar, do we think? What have we done about it? How well has it worked? Why, do we think? What does all this tell us about ourselves?
Who do we feel most similar to in this text? (“scribes and Pharisees”? “the people”? the disciples? Jesus?) Why? Who do we feel most different from in this text? Why?
A couple of possibly relevant links:
Mark Galli, “The Perils of Professional Holiness”
Rod Dreher, “The High Cost of Religious Hypocrisy”, citing Bethany Mandel, “Roy Moore Reminds Me of My Rabbi”
Kate Shellnutt, “Forgive Us Our Debts: How Christian College Grads Pay the Price”